Posted in Gender Transitions, Uncategorized

Redefining Gender Transitions in a Contemporary Society


Transgender refers to those who’ve exempted themselves from their in-born sexuality assigned at birth and thereby transitioned across culturally and socially constructed binary concepts such as gender and sexuality and created a ‘cultural-turn’ while seeking to determine an “identity” for themselves, redefining these constructs as separate dimensions. Although sex is known to follow gender and thus define an individual’s gender identity conventionally and as binarically as possible, transgenderism is a revolutionary term that argues the fact that gender should not necessarily correspond to sexuality whereas an individual’s gender identity is a depiction of one’s own behaviour and therefore cannot be categorized between the dual sexed body.

Giddens defines ‘sex’ as ‘biological or anatomical differences between men and women, whereas ‘gender’ concerns ‘psychological, social and cultural differences between males and females'(qtd. in Wodak 3).  Hence it can be affirmed that gender is culturally constructed although sex is a fixed binary attribute. Conventionally, sex determines gender where a man would distinct oneself through masculinity and vice versa, limiting oneself into one of the two binary categories, which on the contrary can be argued that gender, is still a variable and should not necessarily follow one’s sex. As Judith Butler agrees in her book, ‘Gender Trouble’, gender is not a definitive aspect and although sex appears to be binary, gender is not restricted to be so and thereby, “gender does not mirror sex”. The culturally constructed gender is therefore independent from a sexed body and in this context, feminity could exist in a male body or even both masculinity and feminity can coexist in a person regardless of his sexuality.

The film, “The Danish Girl” brings about the dilemma subjected to Lili in seeking to dismantle her true affiliations and ultimately disclose her sexual identity. In sociological perspectives, sexual identity is not inborn, in fact it is developed through social experiences and sexual psychology which directs a person’s sexual inclinations and thus, Lilli has to undergo the trauma of confining her sexual desires as a woman in a male body despite various societal challenges. The film outlines how gender follows sex only because sex acts as a determinant of cultural attributes in the contemporary society thus forcing Lili to conceal her feminity and ‘act’ masculine in the face of the society for the sole reason that she is physically or sexually a male, together with the responsibilities of a husband’s duties that a married transgender woman is obliged to fulfill.  Unfortunately, the film fails to depict this psychological phenomenon at a greater length where instead, the film portrays how Lili manages to push away Gerda so promptly and initiates a new relationship with a man, without clearly and fully resolving her relationship. This leaves doubt and suspense as to how fast and equally selfish Lili has been in transitioning to a woman despite the harsh and immediate challenges before her and the psychological intricacies those around her must overcome. Indeed, Tom Hooper however cannot be expected to encompass a person’s full life story into a film.

Adding to this negligence is how the sex reassignment surgery in the film gives the idea that Lili has now entirely become a woman and furthermore, the transition of sexuality and gender is constantly noted to be physically trapped within silks and obsessed with the experience rather than examining the psychological complexities encountered after the transition and hence the film portraying the image how all transgender individuals necessarily require their respective sexualities so as to reveal their identity is entirely absurd. Therefore in this respect, the film fails to signify that gender can exist strong enough without sex determining it. Particularly in a world where transgender movement is becoming more commonly observed, the general cogitation of sex as biological and of gender as social are proven to be false, in fact, both these concepts are socially constructed and therefore relative to place and time. This is however evidenced in the film where the level of acceptance of her sexuality changes from one setting to the other in which, this transition of gender despite sex is being accepted in a Parisian setting contrasted to that being restricted by sex in a European culture. Sex is therefore a changing and a fluid multi-dimensional construct where social and cultural experiences direct sexual identity. Hence it is absolute for gender to be constructed over one’s life course and not be determined at birth.

Accordingly, gender that is independent from the binary characterization of sex and yet contributes to the determination of a person’s sexual identity has a direct integration towards identity in terms of the concept known as, “gender identity” where although identity is constructed through concepts such as sex, gender and sexuality; the gender identity of a person who fails to conform to these norms is worth discussing and must be analyzed.

Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of self as being male, female, or an identity between or outside these two categories (qtd. in Nagoshi et al. 4). It is one’s belief or perception that he belongs to a particular gender, supported by self-realization and stipulated by social, cultural, religious and ethnical attributes. However, gender cannot be defined as a ‘unitary model of sexual character’ but rather a variable while being a universal phenomenon as suggested by Connell where he argues that masculinity and femininity coexist in the same person, and that they should not be seen as Polar natural opposites (qtd. in Maria Zina Gonçalves de Abreu 46).

Therefore the development of a person’s gender identity is an understanding of differentiation in social roles and how this understanding varies depending on different religious, ethnic and social aspects. But what psychological challenges and negotiations would a man be compelled to undergo if his instinct was to identify himself as a woman? The film, “The Danish Girl” depicts how Lili learns to reveal her true identity through her gender thus defying the contemporary societal perceptions that might lead to public and social stigma and misjudgments. Being a man physically, steers Lili into an emotional and a strongly psychological struggle between society’s expectations and her own desires. The squared walls and the perfectly-edged windows in a bluish grey setting contrasted with Gerda’s painting of Lili revealing her identity, all of which as contrasted with the mirror that opposes the idea, reflecting only what the society wished to believe, adds further support to this impact.

In fact, it is seen that this very constrain forces Lili to reveal her feminity into the society thus portraying how the transition of one’s gender identity results in the change of societal conditions and perceptions asserting that biological differences is an indicator for change in the society. Despite the strained marriage and several injustices in the form of physical abuse, Lili gains courage and strength to triumph over and create a ‘cultural-turn’.

However, on the other hand, the film fails to clearly state that feminity or masculinity are not predefined attributes but are constantly changing and instable. Einar’s physical transition into Lili coding his body female in front of the mirror leaves little room for Lili to reveal her true identity as a free woman. The film ignores the fact that Lili was not a creation but had formerly existed. Proposing to which, Einar visits a peep show and in fact, ‘learns’ to become a woman. It must be highlighted here that feminity is a construct whereas the film illustrates Einar ‘performing’ Lili and not as Einar identifying herself as a woman further extending to a surgery that embodies his body to the gender.

In the book, Gender Trouble, Judith Butler introduces the concept “Gender Performativity” stating that, “gender proves to be performance— that is, constituting the identity it is purported to be. In this sense, gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to pre-exist the deed”. This concept explicates how gender is defined through behaviour. Despite an individual being given specificity with regards to his sexuality at birth, it is his distinction of character and behaviour that clearly defines his gender and thus creates an identity whereas this concept does not limit itself to a singular identity, to merely two versions but rather the contrary, where one’s identity can depict the coexistence of the two sexualities in one person. Gerda’s visible spontaneity and her independence thus holds witness to this phenomenon.

This strength of Gerda questions the feminity sought out by Einar to reveal Lili’s identity. Therefore what defines the contrast between masculinity and feminity? How can one be identified a male or a female with respect to his or her character traits? Does being dominant, controlling and assertive make one masculine or is feminity defined through passivity, weakness and sensitivity? What must be clearly understood here is that there aren’t specific characterisms defining a person’s gender and it is one’s own behaviour that determines his gender identity and therefore in the light of this world, there is no such adamant theory that is definitive over another’s identity in the society as contrasted with the film where Lili hopes for children in the future, “just like a real woman” (The Danish Girl 2015), restricting the identity of a woman to the body and the biological function. Hence the film is not successful in evaluating how sexual orientation itself does not define gender identity and that it is further defined through behaviour and does not limit to a unitary model of sexual character.

On that account, it is apparent that understanding the diversity among men and women develops with considering how gender constructs social experiences in which case, gender identity is not entirely defined by sexuality which in turn, does not define gender. Therefore the distinction of sex, gender and gender identity is entirely dependable based on a society’s cultural, ethnic and religious perceptions.  However, it can also be justified that cultural and societal perspectives have the potential of being subjected to change with the influence of those exempted from these conventional norms via a growing community known as ‘transgender’. In view of this context therefore, ‘Transgenderism’ revolutionizes the weight on sexuality in defining gender and thus influences the society’s cognizance.

Prioritizing the needs of transgender individuals is hence a necessity in a society that conventionally contingents on the binary sexual phenomenon which must indeed be transformed. The Danish Girl, being a film that is known to be highlighting transgender issues sadly seems to add to them by objectifying the exact persons it claims to support. Psychological aspects in comparison with societal barriers should hence be given higher priority so that gender transitions will be looked upon more individually and universally in the future society. This, I believe, is the eminent responsibility all literary workers must fulfill.